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Short Story: Living on a Thin Line
Living on a Thin Line
By J.T. Stockton
Leon is dead.
I don’t feel any blame. Sure, there are times I wish things went differently. Was the visit at 3 am the wisest of decisions? Maybe not, but I’m damn glad I did, or else I wouldn’t have the strength to carry on for guilt, sorrow, and regret would consume me.
Someone left a fucking cigarette on his grave. What an immature act that is. Was it an act of defamation of character and last resting place, or some inane way of showing respect? Yeah, the man enjoyed a smoke, but, God damn people, come on. I’ll make sure to leave matches, ashes, and phlegm on your grave, you worthless disrespectful swine.
The fucking duck is staring at me again. I would think ducks to be a relatively unthreatening species but under the guise of a burning mind, it’s the scariest damn thing standing motionless in the still hour of a summer night. Fuck this drug, I shouldn’t have taken it alone my first time. I miss you, Leon.
Leon? I thought you were dead, I saw your grave. How are you standing before me? Virgil waits for no man anymore. Back you go, away from here. Your time is over. I’m sure Paradise is waiting eagerly for your arrival—Milton described it so. The poet’s quest is not for you. Go on now, Leon. Allow me to continue, please wait, I will think about you, I will not forget. Go on now, Leon, your time has come.
In the still of night, the midnight air passes me by. Even half a mile down the road I can hear my alarm clock. MY alarm clock, I swear it. The penetrating, annoying sound rang through my ears, it must be stopped. Running, the only means of transportation, pray I left my door unlocked. Yank that son of a bitch out the wall, stop that mechanical crying. Cradle the clock, fall into a deep sleep. Dream of origami shaped trees, dream of an elephant wearing Jiminy Cricket as a hat…dream of Leon.
I first met Leon in middle school, not long after he returned to school after a one week suspension for “accidentally” lighting a nearby field on fire. To this day, I still don’t fully understand how we became such great friends as our personas were vastly different. Leon was a man of debauchery of every kind, even at a young age. He was a mischievous kid who ran with the characters in his head. He had both a widespread popularity and notoriety. He was a wild spirit with a gentle soul, a creative intellect, and a mad curiosity for the world. Leon was, in every sense of the word, a unique personality with the energy and drive to bear it. If Neil Cassidy were still alive today, these spirit brothers would conquer the world like a tornado swallowing loose bark off a dead tree.
We first made acquaintance over our mutual interest in paintball. Not the most exotic thing to pop off the page, but the truth none the less. Hours were spent discussing the top guns, the top courses, and the most recent patterns in strategy. Our Internet histories were full of websites dedicated to finding the best tips to improve our game. We bonded over lost days spent idling in off-the-path paintball courses where no one would arrive for hours at a time…a strong friendship was brewing over simple immature interests. I cherish these times now. If only I had appreciated them more then.
As our friendship grew more comfortable and we grew older, the world became more and more of a vast unexplored wonder. Our interests were growing, changing, shifting. Paintball took a back seat as our top priority was no longer finding the fastest way across a course, but rather, understanding and appreciating the wonders of the world in a sociological, archeological, and spiritual manner. Nights were spent conversing, planning, and imagining the limitless wonders of travel. There was never a question of “if” we would travel, for we had definitive plans to seek out the true nature of living and never stop short of finding the answers to the questions we kept so near.
Talking. Seems to be the only thing anyone ever does anymore. Living gets pushed aside as the “what ifs” become the present reality. People live in their heads. The idea of packing up and leaving is great and wonderful, if we never actually have to do it. In the mind, things have no disappointment, no truth, no false, no ulterior motive, no evil. We can sit in the comfort of our love seats and imagine the crowds we would meet, the food we would eat, things we would see, experiences we would gain, and, above all is, the wonders we would carry with us for the rest of our lives. Humans take safety in the land of imagination and optimism, the savage beast of reality is just that—a savage beast. We don’t want to encounter evil, or distractions, and we absolutely don’t want reality to skew our image of the unexplored.
We take for granted that one day life will hand us the freedom to do what we have always wanted. Tomorrow; a word that has crutched living. We want to explore, we really, really do – tomorrow. There used to be chaos in every direction, corners of the world that held no judgments, no distractions, only wild spirits; spirits that Leon wanted to be a part of, and was a part of—if only he could get there. This was not a want of his; it was an inescapable force that kept him sane. It was the thin line he walked on that divided stability from lunacy.
Wake up in a puddle of my own vomit. Lift my dead weight, carry myself to the bathroom. I can smell my frying brain – the smell of bacon grease left on top a neglected stove. Take a cold shower, cool the brain. Rid the body of sin. Drown my intestines in water. Dehydration. Exhaustion. Guilt. Regret moves me towards the liquor cabinet. Rum.
I lost my job due to negligence. I haven’t paid my rent for over three months now, and my credit card debt continues to rise. I have no money for substance but always money for liquid courage. That courage is the only thing that keeps my eyes awake, and the thought of mortality keeps me sane. Leon becomes closer and closer with every passing second. To scared for suicide.
I got a call from a friend of mine a few months back. He wasn’t too scared for suicide. Depression ran through him like fire in a dense forest. He finally couldn’t deal with it anymore and tried crashing his car. Unfortunately for him he failed. He called me from the hospital requesting a visit, but the staff wouldn’t let me see him. He was under watch. I went back the next day to find he was in the psychiatric ward. I had to take off my watch, my belt, my necklace, my shoelaces, my cellphone. I was wearing a shirt with a cigarette on it; they gave me a jacket to wear over it. The books I brought with me had to be inspected for content. No hardbacks were allowed. I was entering the acute, or severe, ward and the thought of Nurse Ratched entered my mind. When I finally made it past the lobby I was escorted by guards to the recreation area where I was met by my friend. He was heavily sedated. In the almost ten years since I have known him, I have never seen him so disgustingly gloom, so despondent, so oblivious to any and everything around him.
I returned every day for a week and a half, and every day he appeared to be better and better. Finally after two weeks he was released with drugs that helped balance and ease his troubled mind. They seem to be working.
During the daily visits we made plans for a cross-country travel. We were to leave on a Friday, travel north to hit Interstate 80 which would then take us across the country to Interstate 15. Here we were to travel south through Las Vegas and straight into Los Angeles. We wanted desperately to feel the sand beneath our toes. We wanted desperately to feel free in the comfort of the open road. We needed it, he needed it, our minds needed it. I broke down and cried with tears of sorrow and bliss streaming down my cheeks because Leon wouldn’t get to join us, but knew he would be with us. Travel was once again a top priority.
He called me hours before we were set to leave and told me he couldn’t make it.
Talking. Seems to be the only thing anyone ever does anymore. Living gets pushed aside as the “what ifs” become the present reality. People live in their heads.
Weekends with Leon were spent driving around looking for chaos, looking for the wild spirits he so desperately wanted to encounter. We met people that, to this day, remain some of my closest friends. Hours were lost sitting in grocery store parking lots talking, drinking, solving all the world’s problems. Experiences were gained that have helped shaped who I am and will continue to be. Leon gave me a life. He gave me memories that not even the worst state of Alzheimer’s could erase. He gave me a past worth remembering.
Leon had been working at an all-night diner for about five weeks. My roommate at the time and I decided to go visit him one morning at three a.m. The place was empty so he was able to sit and chat with us for a bit. I didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last conversation I would ever have with him. The conversation was unforgettable, the laughter was endless, and the time together was, and is, exceptionally and hauntingly vivid.
As the sun crept slowly awake, so did the public. The diner began to see life, and so Leon was forced to return to his duties. We stood up, I pushed my chair in, started towards to exit, turned and told Leon, “I’ll call ya later,” and then proceeded through the door. I went home, fell asleep and dreamt about seeing the colors of dawn over the Grand Canyon.
I was awoken a few hours later by the ringing of my phone. The voice on the other end told me that Leon had been in a car accident just moments before and was in transit to the hospital. Violently shaking with fear and ignorance I woke up my roommate and we sped to the hospital. After spending what seemed like hours trying to locate him I was finally told he had been taken to the neuroscience floor. His brain stem had been damaged and he was in a coma living off tubes and computers. He was given a 45% chance of survival.
Leon was taken off life support two weeks later.
Eviction in two weeks. A real threat or just more talk. I can’t seem to organize my mind and think with stability. Visions of Leon conquer my thoughts. Visions of Leon keep me up past dawn. The poet’s quest seems right for me. Paradise has gone. I have forgotten how to walk upright with my head held high. Chaos has taken on a new meaning. The winds speak with a sound of abandonment. I can’t chase it. Stability or lunacy? Life runs on a thin line that calls for precision. And I for one no longer have the strength, the will, the desire, or the concentration to take it on. Leon always knew he would fall off, and he knew where he would land. He remains in limbo now, never getting his chance to find the chaos he so desperately wanted.
I still hear his voice from time to time. Talking to me about the travels we will make when I meet him at the gates. Unlike the winds, I hear no abandonment; I hear only the sound of passion. Leon was never a man of “what if.” When he talked, things took form. The characters in his head took him to places he knew were real, and he wanted to see them for himself. He wanted to live just as much as he wanted to talk.
When I think of life, when I think of chaos and wild spirits, I think of Leon. When I think of a unique, balanced mind with the complexity of true depth, I think of Leon. I think of Leon.
J.T. Stockton is a recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate with a degree in Sociology. During his time there he was a staff writer for The Black Sheep, a humorous paper that dealt with entertainment, politics, and cultural issues all in a irreverent manner. Growing up, Stockton had the extreme displeasure of dealing with the death of a close friend, something which has heavily influenced his writing and life outlook.
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